SIC - Orkney & Shetland valuation joint board

Marine / Fishing industry hopes UK negotiators will hold firm

WITH the Brexit trade negotiations entering its final stages, a local fishermen’s leader has warned that time is running out for discussions to take place around next year’s access and quota for EU vessels in UK waters.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said that in case of no deal and no such talks taking place, EU vessels would have no access to UK waters after 31 December.

Acting as an independent coastal state, the UK has already negotiated bilateral agreements with Norway and the Faroe Islands, but not the EU.

Whitefish trawlers sheltering at Lerwick’s Mair’s Quay. Photo: Shetland News

European negotiators are of course hoping to reach a trade deal with the UK which would secure the continued access of EU vessels to UK waters, a position that is vehemently opposed by the industry and has been described by Collins “as the continuation of the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy]”.

Earlier this week, some national newspapers reported that the UK had caved in to allow EU vessels continued access for a five to seven year period, but that was quickly denied by Downing Street.

“Away from the noise of the Brexit negotiations itself, there is reason to sit down and talk about next year, in any case,” Collins said.

However, this could be interpreted as a climb down by EU negotiators who are hoping to get the right of access to UK waters written into any trade deal, rather than agreeing to the principal of annual negotiations.

Collins said: “We are not in favour of a deal that gives away our control of access. If we could have a framework deal that includes the provision that these are actually our waters and we decide access, then, of course, we have always been in favour of a deal.”

Collins continued saying that the reason behind the high profile fishing has been playing in the Brexit trade negotiations over recent months was the fight over the principle of control of access to UK waters.

It’s not about blocking all access of EU fishing vessels; it is about who controls and who manages this access, he said. For decades local fishermen have argued that there has been a gross imbalance between what UK and foreign vessels take from UK waters.

That is why the UK fishing industry insists on annual negotiations with the EU, which would allow this imbalance to be addressed – subsequently leading to higher quota shares for UK vessels.

“It’s not about never having access to UK waters – the principle is that we control it,” Collins said.

“It is about correcting an imbalance, and once we are getting something more reasonable, there is not reason why our European partners can’t continue to fish in our waters.”

Collins added that even if a trade deal is not reached over the coming days, there is no reason why such a deal could not be secured at a later date, and once the noise of politics has dissipated.